Overview of Federal Executive Clemency Process – Not So Different from Illinois State Clemency Procedure

In light of the recent attention President Obama has given to low-level drug offenders who were unduly penalized under previous overly harsh drug conviction sentences, I have been researching the federal executive clemency process to see how it differs from that in our state. I am pleased to report that the process of obtaining federal executive clemency is not that different from the process here in Illinois.

The United States Office of the Pardon Attorney assists the President in the exercise of his executive clemency powers, whereas here in Illinois the executive clemency power lies with the Governor, as assisted by our state’s Prisoner Review Board. The previously cited United States Department of Justice website contains forms for both pardons and commutations of sentences, rules and standards to be applied to the consideration of these federal executive clemency applications. As is the case in Illinois, there is no mandate that the President must consider a Petition for Executive Clemency within a certain period of time, if at all. Moreover, a granting of federal executive clemency is considered to be an extraordinary remedy governed by the principles of equity, just as it is in our state.

As mentioned above, my research into the federal executive clemency process reveals that it is not so different than that employed by our own state. Basically, a petitioner must answer some fundamental questions concerning him/herself, give a thorough explanation of the legal issues surrounding his/her conviction(s), divulge any/all criminal history, and give one or more reasons he/she is seeking such extraordinary relief through the federal executive clemency process.

Though there are what appear to be “fill in the blank” forms (separate ones for pardons and commutations of sentences) posted on the United States Department of Justice’s website, I strongly urge a petitioner to construct his/her petition in a thorough narrative format. Obviously the required questions contained on the aforementioned forms must all be answered, but I would advise that a petitioner include a complete personal life history, including details such as his/her education, work history and other relevant details which would assist the President in coming to understand the petitioner as a unique human being, as opposed to simply an arrest record. Of course every petitioner’s situation is different, but I would advise an attitude of humility and remorse to be conveyed throughout the petition.

This is obviously a rudimentary analysis of the federal executive clemency process and as stated above, every petitioner’s situation is unique and requiring careful scrutiny. If you or someone you care about is stuck in the unfortunate situation of having a non-expungeable conviction on his/her record, or worse, presently incarcerated for an offense, please contact me to discuss your options for relief via the federal or state executive clemency process. I look forward to hearing from you!